This fall, I've been canceling new TV shows (from my DVR queue) at a quicker pace than the networks, which have been uncharacteristically patient. Still, two shows have emerged as keepers for me, and hopefully for the nets, too. One is an expected, though flawed, pleasure; the other is a pleasant surprise.
Let's start with the surprise. The cop drama "Life" stars two unconventionally attractive leads - Damian Lewis ("Band of Brothers") as Charlie Crews, freshly released after being wrongfully imprisoned for 12 years; and Sarah Shahi, who looks like Sandra Bullock's cuter sister, as Crews' tightly wound partner Dani Reese, who seriously unwinds when she's off shift.
Crews, with his tendency to give suspects the benefit of the doubt and his propensity for munching on assorted fruits, is the season's breakout character. He approaches life with an admirable Zen attitude, something he acquired while in prison.
If you watch
What: "Life" Season 1.
When: 9 p.m. Wednesdays.
Highs: Damian Lewis' fruit-chewing Charlie Crews is the season's breakthrough character, and his investigation of who framed him is worth following.
Lows: The fact that it's "just another cop show" on the surface might turn off some viewers.
What: "Pushing Daisies" Season 1.
When: 7 p.m. Wednesdays.
Highs: The cast is great, and the bright sets and cinematography are unlike anything else on TV.
Lows: The excessive voice-over narration seems like it's trying to pad the thin plots. The show has too much Quirk and not enough Character.
The cases are conventional, but it's a joy to watch Crews in unconventional action - he even invites a homeless witness/suspect to live at his house during an investigation.
While Crews is happy to be out from behind bars, Reese spends all her free time picking up men in bars. She is a closed book around Crews, who lives on an open ranch-like property outside the city, paid for with his wrongful conviction settlement.
Open-book Crews does keep one secret from Reese. On the side, he is investigating the murders he was framed for (we meet the potential framers in flashback interviews). The walls of a room feature evidence of his progress; appropriately, Crews is neater than most obsessive sleuths - he precisely positions photos and carefully writes key phrases in black marker.
I'm following "Life" for the long haul, and if NBC doesn't like the ratings, I hope the net moves the show to USA (as it did with "Law & Order: Criminal Intent"). Crews would be right at home with Adrian Monk, the "Psych" boys and Vincent D'Onofrio.
If "Life" is lowercase quirky, "Pushing Daisies" is capital-Q Quirky. Respected producer Bryan Fuller's latest effort is as sugary as the pies Ned the Pie Maker (Lee Pace of "Wonderfalls") specializes in. Ned's baked goods are extra tasty because he uses his superpowered touch to revive rotting fruit before sticking the pies in the oven.
The kitchen of the Pie Hole is equipped with rows of daisies, one of which dies for every strawberry or peach that's revived. The same principal applies when Ned touches dead humans: one life for another, unless he offs them again within a minute. Narrator Jim Dale reminds us of the rules ... in every episode ... many, many times.
"Daisies" sometimes feels like too much of a good thing. The producers probably theorized that the "Harry Potter" books-on-tape guy and a "Potter"-esque score would equal magical ratings for this fantasy show. In truth, the murders-of-the-week just aren't complex enough to warrant Dale's play-by-play.
What's worse, the voice-overs overshadow the strong performances. Pace is endearingly low-key and Anna Friel is cute as Ned's soul mate Charlotte ("Chuck" for short), whom he brought back to life. Chi McBride shows he can do comedy as wonderfully named detective Emerson Cod. And squeaky-voiced Kristin Chenoweth provides a diversion as Olive Snook, who pines for the Pie Maker.
The fact that Ned and Chuck can't touch (if they do, she dies) isn't as annoying for viewers as you'd think, because "Daisies" doesn't push the sexual-frustration angle - it's content to be a colorful storybook fantasy.
"Daisies" isn't as deep as Fuller's deliciously cynical "Wonderfalls" and "Dead Like Me." I'm not saying I mind a light, happy fantasy now and then, but Fuller should know his audience is intelligent. He didn't need a million voice-overs to explain his other shows, and he doesn't need them here.
JOHN HANSEN, entertainment editor, may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 855-5863.
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